Diaconal Formation in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Purpose of the Deacons School
The purpose of the Deacons School is to prepare postulants and candidates for ministry in the church and the world; so that the people of God are more able to respond to the concerns, needs, and hopes of the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely in the name of Jesus Christ. The Deacons School is equipped to prepare both primary English language and primary Spanish language speaking postulants and candidates.
Expectations of Formation
Deacons are formed in community, so all formation takes place in cohort groups or within the context of an organization or parish community. For this primary reason, we have chosen to do bilingual formation in English and Spanish, rather than creating two separate schools based on language. Other benefits to this approach include… And because there are relatively few parallel resources in Spanish, this approach provides us the opportunity to develop materials not only for our own use in this diocese, but for the wider church as well. Opening Retreat & Gatherings
Once a nominee becomes a postulant in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, they begin their official formation process. Attending the yearly Deacons’ Retreat is one of the first times for postulants to enter into the community of deacons in the diocese. This event includes worship, learning, fellowship, and meals. It may include the gathering of different cohort groups who are at varying stages of formation. The retreat is held yearly in December. Postulants also begin meeting on a quarterly basis to begin preparations for academic classes, the local Deacons School, and spiritual development.
Elements of the Deacons School
There are four key elements to the Deacons School: academic formation, local school, internships, and liturgical practicum.
The canons require the formation of each postulant in the areas of academic studies including the Holy Scriptures, theology, and the tradition of the Church. In our academic formation, we are using separate language programs but our classes are parallel. The classes cover basic survey courses in Christian Scriptures, Hebrew Scriptures, Systematic Theology, Ethics, Church History including Anglican and Episcopal Church History.
Primary English speaking students attend online courses at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) through the CALL (Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership) program.
Our relationship with CDSP provides 6, 7-week classes in three semesters allowing our students to complete these classes in one calendar year. Primary Spanish speaking students attend a parallel online program that also runs for a full calendar year. Following the successful completion of these core courses, students may begin the local school.
For 18 months, each cohort group meets once a month for a full Saturday. The day includes teachings and presentations on various subjects, worship and discussions. Students are required to do reading in preparation for the classes, write reflection papers, and give presentations to their cohort. The school meets from January to June of the following year, with no classes meeting in July and August.
The course work includes but is not limited to:
- Servant Leadership and the Ministry of the Baptized
- The History and Theology of the Diaconate
- Systems Theory
- Issues of Justice and Peace
- Viewing Scripture and Preaching via a Diaconal Lens
- Liturgy, Sacraments, and the Liturgical Symbolism of the Diaconate
- Organizational Development and Community Organizing
- Being under Authority and working with Priests and Lay Leaders
- Title IV (The Episcopal Church canon on clergy discipline) and the Diocesan Canons.
- As individuals, students must complete the diocesan expectations and trainings in areas of multi-culturalism and anti-racism, sexual abuse, and safeguarding.
Students are also required to complete two 9-month internships. One of those is in a social service agency and the other is in a parish within the diocese. The agencies are vetted and approved for supervision needs and ministry requirements. The students are encouraged to choose a setting that will stretch and challenge them and to select an agency with which they are unfamiliar. The parish internship takes place in a congregation with a deacon who serves as the supervisor. Students give 8-12 hours each week to their internships, which is the time they are expected to serve as a parochial deacon.
Throughout the entire 18 months, students lead daily prayers and take roles in the Eucharist. This includes serving as the altar guild, acolyte, readers, prayer leaders, Eucharistic ministers, deacons of the word and table, and homilist.
Administering/shepherding/stewarding/managing the Deacons School is the responsibility of the Archdeacon with input from the Commission on Ministry, in particular the sub-committee on Formation for the Diaconate. The Archdeacon serves as the “dean” of the Deacons School and is responsible for the details of securing teachers and celebrants, managing the documents of students and teachers, and communicating with the COM, the Canon with oversight for Ordination, and the Bishop.
A Note About The Length of Time it Takes to Complete the Ordination Process
Attending Deacons School is only one part of the full ordination process for deacons. From the Workshop Day on the Diaconate to Ordination typically takes about 4 years. The Formation Process takes roughly 30 months. The Deacons School comprises 18 months of that time.
Contact: The Ven. L. Sue von Rautenkranz